ADHD Workplace Accommodations: Five strategies to help you feel more effective and less overwhelmed

Updated: Nov 3, 2021

A tap on the shoulder makes you jump. “Sorry,” you say, taking off the noise-cancelling headphones blocking the office noise and turning to look at your boss. She smiles, “I gave you quite a fright there. Can you get those reports to me tomorrow? I met with Jan, and she said...”

The rest of the sentence is lost. You’d tried to write it down after your boss left but can’t remember a thing. What did Jan say? You open Outlook and stare at meetings from last week, looking for clues. Okay, don’t panic. This should be easy to remember. I mean, everyone else can do it, right?

Having ADHD can be overwhelming in environments designed for neurotypicals, and the workplace is no exception. Research has found plenty of evidence that for adults with ADHD, workplaces can be challenging, tedious, environments that can leave you feeling unproductive, ineffective and more likely to quit [1]–[4]. Reasons for this include difficulties with working memory, emotional regulation, time blindness and the need for increased stimulation [1], [5]–[8].


One of the recommendations to support those with ADHD is the use of workplace accommodations [9]. However, this can be complicated as employers often don’t understand adult ADHD or what accommodations might be effective. In addition, many adults don’t want to disclose ADHD for fear of stigma or based on previous negative experiences.

One of the things we do at Unconventional Organisation is helping ADHDers in the workplace develop accommodations and work through disclosure in a manner that’s most comfortable for them. In some cases, the employer is involved directly. In other cases, we focus on developing accommodations and learning how to ask an employer for what you need in a way that concentrates on you rather than disclosing your ADHD. However you decide to approach it, here are five accommodations that our clients have found particularly helpful in the workplace. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully, it will help you get started.

1. When Others Start You Plan

ADHD executive functioning struggles include working memory and estimating time. Both of these things can make the old adage “just get started” more difficult. When you're given a large project at work it can pay to set aside some time to make a plan. Items to think through include:

· What are the different elements of each task and subtasks?

· What resources do you need?

· How long will each task take? (If you’re not sure, doubling your estimate is usually a good start).

Outlining all the different sections of a task will help you avoid getting stuck or missing essential details further down the track.

2. Avoid Verbal Instructions

While it can be tricky depending on the workplace, but it can help avoid auditory instructions if at all possible. Instead, bringing a notebook with you to write things down or asking someone to email you can avoid working memory struggles that mean you’ve forgotten an instruction by the time you get back to your desk.

3. Find The Best Setting For Optimal Stimulation

Some people love to work in a coffee shop. For others, it’s a closed-off room with their headphones on. Experiment with what works for you, and if possible, let your employee know which setting supports your productivity. If you need extra help getting in focus once you’re there, you can check out our get-in-focus routine.

4. Incorporate Discrete Fidget Toys Into Your Space

As coaches, we spend what might seem like a surprising amount of time discussing how to incorporate fidget toys into your life discreetly. Especially in meetings, having something to fidget with can help increase your focus and reduce boredom. Possible options include jewellery, putty erasers, rubber bands, and in some cases, Rubik’s cubes. Try it out and see what you feel comfortable with.

5. Hire An Assistant (Virtual Or Otherwise)

This is arguably one of the more effective accommodations for ADHDers in the workplace. But it can also be one of the hardest to access. An assistant can support your working memory, act as a body double and take care of tedious administrative tasks. If you decide to work with an assistant, take some time to determine which communication methods would be most effective for you (e.g. audio messages, slack or email) and which tasks you could give to another person.

Hopefully, by working through this list, you’ve gained some new ideas about how to support your ADHD at work. Whether you decide to disclose ADHD or not, having a better understanding of how you work can help you communicate more effectively about accommodations with your employer. Have a go experimenting with these strategies and if there are any others you use, share your tips in the comments below!

Talk to you next week.


Skye.



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References

[1] K. L. Barnett, ‘ADHD and Self-Regulation in the Workplace’, Ph.D., Walden University, United States -- Minnesota, 2019. Accessed: Nov. 03, 2020. [Online]. Available: http://search.proquest.com/docview/2161215966/abstract/940F84A52B9C431APQ/1

[2] Y. Ginsberg, K. M. Beusterien, K. Amos, C. Jousselin, and P. Asherson, ‘The unmet needs of all adults with ADHD are not the same: a focus on Europe’, Expert Rev. Neurother., vol. 14, no. 7, pp. 799–812, Jul. 2014, doi: 10.1586/14737175.2014.926220.

[3] C. T. Gordon and G. A. Fabiano, ‘The Transition of Youth with ADHD into the Workforce: Review and Future Directions’, Clin. Child Fam. Psychol. Rev., vol. 22, no. 3, pp. 316–347, Sep. 2019, doi: 10.1007/s10567-019-00274-4.

[4] S. Leinerud and J. S. Knight, ‘Beyond Symptom Amelioration: Relationships Between Work Supports, Functional Impairments and Quality of Life in Swedish Adults with Self-Reported ADHD’, p. 72.

[5] G. Tripp and J. R. Wickens, ‘Neurobiology of ADHD’, Neuropharmacology, vol. 57, no. 7–8, pp. 579–589, Dec. 2009, doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2009.07.026.

[6] R. Alderson, L. Kasper, K. Hudec, and C. Patros, ‘Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Working Memory in Adults: A Meta-Analytic Review’, Neuropsychology, vol. 27, pp. 287–302, May 2013, doi: 10.1037/a0032371.

[7] K. J. Radonovich and S. H. Mostofsky, ‘Duration Judgments in Children With ADHD Suggest Deficient Utilization of Temporal Information Rather Than General Impairment in Timing’, Child Neuropsychol., vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 162–172, Sep. 2004, doi: 10.1080/09297040409609807.

[8] Lenard. Adler and M. J. Silverstein, ‘Emotional Dysregulation in Adult ADHD’, Psychiatr. Ann., vol. 47, no. 7, pp. 318–322, Jul. 2018, doi: http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.auckland.ac.nz/10.3928/00485713-20180607-01.

[9] A. Ek and G. Isaksson, ‘How adults with ADHD get engaged in and perform everyday activities’, Scand. J. Occup. Ther., vol. 20, no. 4, pp. 282–291, Jul. 2013, doi: 10.3109/11038128.2013.799226.

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